The Cho Lab focuses on developing strategies to bring the remarkable benefits of immunotherapy to a wider range of patients with cancer. The success of contemporary cancer immunotherapy was enabled by the discovery that cancers engage proteins on immune cells to prematurely turn off their activity. By blocking these interactions, immunotherapy can prevent cancers from disabling immune cells, allowing the immune system to reject even advanced cancers. Importantly, for this to work, the immune system needs to at least initiate a response to cancer – an initial response that can then be augmented by immunotherapy. Unfortunately, many cancers – including most pancreatic, liver and intestinal cancers – are so invisible to the immune system that there is no initial response for immunotherapy to augment.
Developed at the University of Michigan, histotripsy is an entirely novel modality of focused ultrasound ablation capable of non-invasively destroying tumors with millimeter precision. Our laboratory has shown that histotripsy is capable of initiating anti-tumor immune responses. Indeed, in preclinical models, we have shown that histotripsy treatment of tumors triggers a systemic anti-tumor immune response strong enough to inhibit growth of distant, untreated tumors (the so-called abscopal effect). More importantly, we have shown that the anti-tumor immune response initiated by histotripsy can be magnified by immunotherapy – enabling us to experimentally treat resistant pancreatic and liver cancers with immunotherapy.
Clinical studies led by Dr. Cho and colleagues have led to the recent FDA approval of histotripsy for use in cancer patients. We are now fully engaged in the effort to optimally translate our laboratory findings into the clinic.